Would More Water in the Mississippi Keep Oil From the Wetlands?

Staff Writer

One of the unsung heroes in the fight to save Louisiana's wetlands from the oil spill is the Mississippi River. The flow of fresh water into the Gulf of Mexico has keep the slick offshore, scientists believe. Now some are proposing to divert more water into the Mississippi to help keep the oil at bay.

The immediate worry is that the flow of the Mississippi River tends to drop seasonally, starting in June. G. Paul Kemp, a coastal scientist with the National Audubon Society, says that oil will reach more of the wetlands sooner if the water flow into the delta decreases. "The river is our best tool against the oil," Kemp told ScienceInsider.

The new proposal, supported by Kemp and others, is to shift the flow of water between the Mississippi and a river in Louisiana it feeds called the Atchafalaya. A massive concrete structure about 500 kilometers upstream from the mouth of the river diverts 70% of the flow down the Mississippi and sends 30% into the Atchafalaya.

Robert Twilley of Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, another supporter of the idea, has organized a team of coastal science and engineering experts to evaluate major response efforts to the spill. The team is looking at the proposal and plans to have an analysis completed next week. He says several hydrodynamic models have been run to evaluate the idea. "We've been in conversation with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state [of Louisiana] about how to manage the river as a protection system," Twilley says.

Politically, the idea may be difficult to accomplish, he admits. The diversion structure is controlled by Congress, and earlier proposals to send more water down the Mississippi met with resistance.

For more on the gulf oil spill, see our full coverage.

Posted in Climate Gulf Oil Spill, coastal ecosystems